Words by: Ryan Dembinsky | Images by: Dino Perrucci
Them Crooked Vultures :: 02.08.10 :: Roseland Ballroom :: New York, NY
Despite being a supergroup comprised of rock royalty best known from the southern California desert, the United Kingdom, and Seattle, when Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) took to the Roseland Ballroom with Them Crooked Vultures on Monday night, it felt decidedly New York City. To be clear, we're not just talking about a skinny Jim Carroll nodding off in a booth at Max's Kansas City or a Lester Bangs taking stealth pulls of Romilar at CBGBs. Rather, we're talking about that weird mix of wise-beyond-their-years high school kids, ultimate fighting champions with razor sharp facial hair, unstoppable hipsters, and the occasional girl that congeal together to form the unmistakable smell of Slim Jims - that kind of New York City.
Both band and fans alike shook off their Super Bowl hangovers, including Grohl, who according to frontman Josh Homme "drank Jägermeister until 5:30 in the morning. He's such an alcoholic," and still rattled the very foundation of the always-overcrowded ballroom.
From the get-go, the Vultures played one jam-heavy rager after another, hardly letting up long enough for inhabitants of the stuffed sausage floor to catch a breath or grab a drink to cool down from the visceral hot mustard being liberally applied. The band kicked it off right, as the evening's second tune, "Scumbag Blues" - the best cut in their catalog - reached epic proportions with John Paul Jones showing his most dexterous bass work and quickly putting to rest any potential complaints that we're reviewing just another indie band here at JamBase. All night, in fact, the band could have easily been classified as a jam band if only they weren't so jaw-droppingly loud and heavy.
Beyond "Scumbag," the band essentially tackled its entire catalog, which comes as no surprise as said catalog encompasses only one album, though they did perform the unreleased tune "Highway One," which serves in part as a slight oasis from the pulsating loudness and a vehicle for Jones to morph an effected mandolin bluegrass run into a slick rock riff. Other highlights included the giant climax of "Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up" and Homme's Zep-esque blazing lead riff on "Elephants."
|Homme & Johannes - Them Crooked Vultures :: 02.08|
Make no mistake, Grohl and Jones hold the star power, but Homme serves as the frontman. And while some criticize Homme for not stacking up to the likes of JPJ or Grohl, Homme's strait-laced, square appearance and whimsical personality serve only to focus the attention on the music. Of course, his vocals do not resonate anywhere close to the likes of a Robert Plant or a Kurt Cobain, but his searing guitar work does and he makes for a charismatic bandleader.
Homme joked amicably before going into "Mind Eraser, No Chaser" that when the band played Saturday Night Live two days prior, in classic rock fashion, he slipped in three expletives without the censors even noticing before highlighting, "This one's a song about being tricked." Homme continued to incorporate good comedy throughout the evening.
As for Grohl, it's almost worth the price of a ticket just to witness one of the most passionate drummers in the business at work. There's something about seeing that trademark breakneck hair flipping in person that feels like a must in every diehard music fan's concert scrapbook. Furthermore, you really can't get the full sense on a record of his uncanny ability to lead a jam from "meander" to "climax" by pounding at the same fill, adding extra hits when needed and working a pair of cymbals the size of an elliptical orbit, without seeing him in the thick of it.
Guitarist Alain (Eleven and a Desert Sessions veteran), who turns the touring band into a quartet, serves sixth-man duties so-to-speak, adding largely rhythm guitar and trading subdued licks and solos with Homme, but he also adds a more notable dimension at times. In particular, the band flourishes when he steps to the Clavinet and takes the band away from thrashing and into the heavy funk, again most successfully on "Scumbag Blues." He also showed off his desert rock chops when the three members proper left the stage, giving Johannes the spotlight for a unique guitar solo perfectly suited for a Joshua Tree walkabout.
|Dave Grohl - Them Crooked Vultures :: 02.08 :: New York|
Last but not least, JPJ really shines in this band, not only on bass but also on keys, mandolin, keytar and a crazy ass custom made bass slide. What's particularly compelling about Jones in this mix is how he consistently steals the show, effortlessly and without the spotlight as he works with Grohl to build a thundering rhythm section. At other times, he'll stealthily blaze through virtuoso chops on any one of his instruments, where you almost forget to notice him, until you do.
Finally, the lights made a subdued, but notable contribution. A backdrop of white diamonds provided a base setting, but the use of shadows and darkness set the tone. At times, the lighting director projected huge silhouettes of the musicians on the walls to each side of the stage; a nice alternative to the excessive lasers used by most lighting directors these days.
Given the nature of the beast, it'd be easy to size up Them Crooked Vultures for what they are not, namely Led Zeppelin or Nirvana, but that would be slighting. Josh Homme, Dave Grohl, and John Paul Jones exhibit honest to goodness chemistry - like Bangs and his cough syrup, NYC and its melting pot - this band is its own thing. Against the odds of a Monday night show on the day after the Super Bowl, Them Crooked Vultures put on a rock clinic and New York City took notes.
Them Crooked Vultures tour dates available here.
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